ESCANABA - The Ruth Butler Building at the U.P. State Fairgrounds was packed Tuesday night as the Delta County United Way kicked off this year's fundraising campaign with the 18th Annual Soup'r Chili Challenge.
"We're really excited to see people come out to our Soup'r Chili Challenge, and learn about the United Way, visit the agencies, of course taste some delicious soup and chili that are made by our volunteer chefs," said Julie Mallard, executive director of the United Way of Delta County.
Tasters sampled nine soups and 15 chilies prepared by local restaurants and organizations. The People's Choice awards in soup, chili, and booth decorating were selected by attendees.
Two teams of judges composed of firefighters from the Brampton Volunteer Fire Department and the Ford River Fire & Rescue selected the chilies and soups in restaurant and non-restaurant categories.
"Definitely ain't the worst job in the world," said Dave Korpi, a judge from the Ford River Fire & Rescue.
This year, the judges selected Pacino's chili as the best restaurant chili, and the Disabled American Veterans' chili as the best non-restaurant. Judges choice restaurant soup was awarded to Terrace Bay Inn for its chicken gumbo, and Holy Name Catholic School's beef barley took home the non-restaurant award.
Volunteer chefs took the competition seriously, bringing their best recipes.
"We started early this morning. It's my father's recipe and he was very proud to share it with the community," said Kim Kareckas of Holy Name Catholic School.
For some groups, selecting a single entry into the competition was difficult.
"It was a process," said Tom Sabor, of Team Sabor. "We had our own little Chili Challenge before we had this one."
The People's Choice awards were given to Terrace Bluff Golf Club for its seafood chowder in the soup division and to Rick Micheau in the chili division for his white chicken chili.
This year the theme of the Soup'r Chili Challenge was Tailgate Party and many of the booths were decorated to fit the theme. Community tasters selected the Hereford & Hops booth for the People's Choice Best Booth Display award.
Some groups represented at the Soup'r Chili Challenge didn't bring food at all, but instead brought promotional items to draw attention to their organizations.
"We actually, as an agency, enjoy it more because we're able to talk to people and we get to share what we do and more of what we do," said Tanya Schuster, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area, a United Way agency. "We want to get the word out why it's important to give to the United Way."
The money raised by the Soup'r Chili Challenge will be applied to this year's United Way Campaign, which funds many organizations in Delta County. The Soup'r Chili Challenge is the first of a series of events that United Way will have throughout the rest of the campaign season.
"That's ultimately what it's all about," said Mallard. "We're here to teach the community who we are and what we do, and remind them that this is a time when we need their help."
For more information about the United Way, member agencies, or how you can give visit www.uwdelta.org or call 786-3736.